“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.” Socrates- 5th Century B.C.
And so has been the refrain for the last 24-2500 years. Each generation was better at fill in the blank than the ones to follow. From their work ethic, to their style of dress and music, to areas of common sense and decency, each successive group doesn’t quite measure up, or do they?
The same attitude has reared its ugly head in athletics. Of course, yesterday’s athletes were better skilled and worked harder, or so the thought goes. I had this discussion with a prominent boys basketball coach some time ago and he said, with no disrespect to his earlier teams, that his recent clubs would have destroyed his earlier teams.
One thing that has changed over the years is the prevailing culture in athletics throughout our state. Critics of today’s games would say the overall product has been watered-down, and there is some validity to that. However, to point the finger at today’s young people is a bit short-sighted. Over the past twenty-five years or so, Maine has experienced a major demographic shift. School enrollments have plummeted, while at the same time, for the most part, the number of programs and opportunities have increased, both athletic and non-athletic.
Specialization has become more prominent over this time period, as well. It’s not unusual for a high level, or even marginal player, to participate in only one sport year-round, hence reducing the available pool of athletes in a school. The prevailing youth sports culture, in which “elite” travel teams are formed as early as the third grade also has contributed to this trend.
For those who are critical of today’s kids, have you ever stopped to think of the time commitment involved with being a student-athlete today? The typical school day starts around eight in the morning, followed by a two hour practice session or game. If it’s a road game, factor in travel time to and from the game site. Factor in about two hours of homework, or more depending on the academic track the student is on. Oh by the way, many athletes also may have a key role in the school play, in music, or some other activity. Some even have a part-time job to earn extra money on weekends.
I’ve found today’s student-athlete to be as focused and driven as ever. In fact, there seems to be more pressure placed on our young people to succeed, especially academically than ever before. With more students coming from homes with parents who are college educated, the expectations are for them to do the same. What you see on the hardwood, the fields, or the ice, is a very small piece of the puzzle of who they are and what they do. Oh, how I wished I had grasped that concept when I was coaching.